Messy Beautiful Love Is Christ-Centered

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It wasn’t your usual Saturday afternoon.

We had a lot of talking to do. Money talk. You know – the uncomfortable, I-want-to-avoid-this-topic discussion, where we chat about our finances to see where our money’s being spent. We desperately try to avoid pointing fingers, but the temptation is strong nonetheless.

Michael likes to spend on gifts. Whatever the occasion, I can be sure that my husband won’t show up empty-handed.

At Christmastime our tree is surrounded by presents, and a birthday is a weeklong celebration. Buying gifts for his family is one of Michael’s greatest pleasures, but it’s also a topic of contention for us. And yes, he gives to others, too – nonstop.

I like buying gifts for people, but not anywhere near to the extent that he does. Just a few weeks ago I had a birthday. He bought me new cushions for our garden furniture, a large cooking pot, a set of cutlery, a spoon rest, a napkin holder, a framed print, and a purebred Pug puppy. It’s nice to get gifts but overwhelming sometimes.

I’m more of a small spender, but I like to spend often. I want to be able to go out on dates with him, take the kids out for ice cream, pick up some cute shoes, and buy clothes when we need them. I’m a spend-as-you-go kind of girl, while Michael’s a spend-all-at-once kind of guy. In other words, we have different opinions when it comes to our finances.

And so we sat down. With a laptop in front of us, we went over our spending and took a look at our income to determine the outcome. Why were we over budget? Where should we cut back? What were our biggest concerns?

After about two hours of talking and searching and making notes, I started getting tense. I couldn’t help feeling that

Michael was painting me into a corner. All the things that he wanted to cut out of our budget were the things that I enjoy most. I didn’t want to get angry, and I didn’t want to point fingers, but I found myself doing both.

I’d start, and I’d stop. And then I’d do it all over again.

“Maybe we should talk about all the Christmas gifts you bought last December,” I said. “And look at November. How many times did you go to the mall?”

I wasn’t happy about the conversation, and I certainly wasn’t happy about the way I was handling things. I was trying to be kind and considerate, but my anger kept rearing its head.

“Okay,” he said in the most considerate way, “but can we talk about this without pointing fingers? There are a lot of things that I need to change.”

Then I saw something happen that I’ve never seen before, at least not in the physical sense. Michael’s flesh was at war with his spirit, and his spirit was winning the battle.

I could tell that he was ready to walk out of the room and slam the door behind him. He stood up for a second before sitting back down at least once or twice. Every time he resisted the urge to give up and walk out, he chose to be patient and kind. I could tell just by watching Michael that there was an internal struggle inside him. He was sacrificing his emotional turmoil for the good of our marriage. It was more important for him to walk in peace than it was to win. His loving-kindness is a constant reminder of how it’s better to do right than it is to be right.

Watching him fight for our marriage reminds me that sacrificial love is so important to achieving unity. That’s what marriage is about, really – it’s growing together as one so that we reflect the unity of the covenant between Jesus Christ and the church.

Paul wrote,

God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). – Ephesians 2:4-5

Paul talked about the same kind of love – agape love – in his letter to the Corinthians, instructing them to be patient, kind, considerate, and humble. It’s also the same love described here:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

We might never be called to physically lay down our lives for the sake of a friend. I know that I never have. But time and again we are called to lay down our lives in a spiritual sense. We’re called to walk humbly through this world, esteeming others higher than ourselves.

An incredibly interesting passage of Scripture appears in John 21. I love to read from the Greek translation whenever I can because things just pop off the page and speak to me. It was the third time that Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. He was speaking to Peter:

Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [agape] thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love [phileo] Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs. – John 21:15

Let me point out a contrast here. Agape is a sacrificial love while phileo is a brotherly/friendship love. We’ll talk more about the love of friendship in another chapter, but in this one I want to specifically focus on agape love. This love calls us to give our lives for others.

That was Peter’s mind-set when he said,

Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake. – John 13:37

Peter expressed incredible devotion, which for the most part was characteristic of him. But here we see a different Peter:

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [agape] thou Me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love [phileo] Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep. – John 21:16

Peter didn’t say, “Yes, Lord, I agape you,” as we expect him to say, because he was walking in humility.

If you remember, in the first chapter I said, “Peter, who with passionate faith once walked upon the water to meet Jesus, was the same Peter who fell asleep after his Lord had instructed him to watch and wait. This man who declared, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will’ (Matthew 26:33), was the same man who denied Him three times that very night just hours before His death.”

What we see here is Peter’s transformation of faith. Peter knew that he was weak and that he had failed his Lord when he denied Him three times just hours before His death. Jesus understood his struggle in the flesh and said

unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [phileo] thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest [phileo] thou Me? And he said unto Him, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love [phileo] Thee.” Jesus saith unto him, “Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17

Peter was grieved because he desperately wanted to say, “Yes, Lord, I agape You.” He wanted to be the man that he knew he should be. He wanted to lay down his life for his Lord, but he knew that he was a sinner growing in grace.

Jesus offered him grace when He asked, “Will you love [phileo] Me?” In essence He was saying, “This is what I ask, this is what I hope for, but this is what I know you can give Me.”

We’re all like Peter in that we’re growing in grace. And as He did with Peter, God is calling us to love with a sacrificial love.

Jesus said that all the commandments can be summed up in these two:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. – Matthew 22:37, Matthew 22:39

Do you wonder what kind of love Jesus was talking about? You guessed it – agape love.

Loving my husband is more than just having the warmies for him. If I love him, I must be willing to walk in humility for the good of our marriage. Laying down my life for Michael is an act of laying down my selfishness, anger, and pride. It’s never an easy thing to do, but it’s the most Christ-centered way I can live.

No, I’m not there yet, but I’m learning and growing in grace. I’m committed to living out my vows and reflecting the covenant of my Lord; therefore, I must be willing to go the extra mile when it is required of me.

When my flesh is at war with my spirit, I have a choice.

I can either let my flesh win or I can exercise virtue. I can fly off the handle, or I can patiently offer him kindness. I’ve come to learn that choosing the right path is well worth the effort.

Love is so many things, but the heart of the matter is that beautiful love is Christ-centered.

Watch the Messy, Beautiful Love Video

Excerpted with permission from Messy, Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages by Darlene Schacht, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2014.

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Your Turn

Have you experienced those messy beautiful love moments in your marriage when your flesh was at war with your spirit, and your spouse could see that your spirit was winning the battle? Or when you could see that lovely transformational struggle in him? Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you!

Darlene Schacht

Darlene Schacht is the original founder of Christian Women Online Magazine and The Internet Café Devotions and writes the popular blog Time-Warp Wife. She is coauthor of Candace Cameron Bure’s New York Time’s best-selling book, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness. Darlene has been married to Michael Schacht for more than 25 years. They have four children.

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